'ANYTHING FOR YOU, BELINDAAAA!'
A former Jones Day partner has admitted telling his client to "burn" evidence, but claims he only did it to to protect his wife.
Raymond McKeeve gave the instruction in the course of advising Today Development Partners, a grocery business set up by Ocado co-founder Jonathan Faiman.
Ocado sued Faiman and another of its former employees, Jon Hillary, for allegedly misappropriating confidential information to benefit TDP, and the online grocers obtained a search order against the pair.
McKeeve, who was Jones Day's leading private equity lawyer in London before he left the US firm in 2020, told the High Court he "panicked" when Ocado demanded access to messages exchanged between McKeeve, Faiman and Hillary on the secure messaging app used by TPD, and instructed the company's IT manager to "burn" it.
TDP settled Ocado's corporate espionage claim for £1.75 million last year, but the supermarket came after McKeeve for contempt of court over his unusual instruction. It failed in its first attempt, but the Court of Appeal allowed the case to proceed, and McKeeve now faces the possibility of a criminal record and a prison sentence.
McKeeve's barrister, Robert Weekes QC, told the court that McKeeve had been a transactional lawyer for 25 years with little experience of search orders, and had not comprehended what it meant. Weekes said McKeeve was "not driven in any way by a desire to destroy evidence", and that while the "burn" order represented a "serious lapse of judgment", it was a "knee jerk reaction" which did not constitute a criminal offence.
In fact, said McKeeve, his actions were driven by a chivalrous impulse to protect his wife, the former Brexit MEP Belinda de Lucy. The former Jones Day partner explained that in the secure 3CX messaging app used by his TDP clients, de Lucy's name was employed as a pseudonym for Hillary, who at the time was on gardening leave from Ocado.
In an affidavit presented to the court, McKeeve said, "My gut reaction was to try to protect Belinda and my sole concern was to avoid having my wife dragged through a potentially embarrassing high-profile investigation where her name had been used without her consent". If so, it has backfired somewhat.
David Cavender QC, for Ocado, said there weren't many precedents to rely on because there were no records of any solicitor having acted as McKeeve did.
The hearing continues, although whatever the outcome, TPD has been terrible business for Jones Day - when the grocer collapsed because a planned tie-up with Waitrose went mouldy, Jones Day was the single biggest creditor with outstanding unpaid invoices amounting to £5.5 million.